Mobile Health Summit Shows Progress to Scalability and Sustainability
Scalability. Sustainable business models. Working with network operators. These are the challenges that we end up talking about at mHealth gatherings, frequently without a lot of answers.
But I am happy to report from this year’s GSMA mHealth Alliance Mobile Health Summit that there is a lot of promise, progress, and action. I had the opportunity to speak on Thursday, May 31, as part of panel looking at how mHealth interventions are contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, which was well received. I’ve enjoyed catching up with friends in this dynamic sector, and to see more and more collaboration and convergence around common goals.
But what got me most excited from this conference was a presentation by Switchboard, an organization working out of the San Francisco Bay area that has found a way to provide a win-win approach to completely connecting networks of health workers from cities to the most remote villages via mobile phones. What is truly unique about Switchboard’s approach is that has the support of mobile network operators. Traditionally, working with operators and going to scale have been two of the biggest challenges in low- and middle-income countries. This provides an instantly scaled solution with an invested operator as a partner.
Switchboard has found a way to work with network operators with this proposition: the network operator provides a closed network of every health worker on the system, so their calls in that network are free; all other calls outside the network follow normal billing. This allows these networks of health workers to eliminate the cost barrier for themselves when calling or texting each other, while the operators make money off all their other calls, and they get an increased and loyal subscriber base. In the process, Switchboard develops a national medical registry of health experts that health workers can consult easily, and creates a connected network of health workers who can now receive health of other related information sent out via SMS, thereby building a basic knowledge network.
Switchboard has been working with doctors in Ghana and Liberia, and now is looking to implement its national model with all health workers in Tanzania. This appears to be one of the first truly sustainable and scalable models in mHealth, and I look forward to following their progress.